This is the first in a series of monthly posts that will highlight my favorite comedies of each decade. Key word here is favorite and not necessarily the best. Comedy is a highly subjective category. While many film lovers see Billy Wilder’s Some Like it Hot to be one of the best comedies, there are folks, well informed film lovers, who disagree.
I myself believe many of our modern day comedies rely too much on trashy jokes and not enough on sophisticated humor. A fart joke gets the laugh. Why bother with intelligent humor. Now, I have nothing against low-brow or bathroom humor, but how many times do we have to see Will Farrell take off his shirt, pants, or more (Old School, Blades of Glory, Talledega Nights, Anchorman, Step Brothers, Daddy’s Home)? Today’s audiences also have an intolerance for the buildup to the joke. Attention spans have diminished over the years. Television is partially to blame for this; the jokes have to come quick to get them all in a twenty minutes time frame. Laurel and Hardy would never survive in today cinema world. It’s not that there are not good comedies today. The Big Sick is one of my favorite films of 2017, and Judd Apatow has a pretty good record. However, overall they are far and in between. Continue reading →
In the early 1970’s, then New York Governor Huge Carey appointed a state special prosecutor to investigate judiciary corruption known to be running rampant within the state. The man selected was Maurice Nadjari. He was looked at as a warrior, a lone wolf, a white knight hero going up against a corrupt system. And at the time in New York there was plenty of corruption to go around. Nadjari began to indict one judge after another. Continue reading →
I always have this emotional punch in the gut when I watch Brian DePalma’s Casualties of War. It leaves me drained and brings back memories that are best left forgotten. I was not in the “front lines” in Vietnam but the exposure to war for any nineteen year old, no matter what your situation, leaves disturbing memories and worst for a lifetime. Continue reading →
Sex is disgusting, at least according to Paul and Mary Bland, the ‘heroes’ in Paul Bartel’s wonderfully perverse black comedy. The film originally premiered at the New York Film Festival in late September 1982 and a week later opened at the 69th Street Playhouse in Manhattan for a healthy run.
Starring Bartel and Mary Woronov as Paul and Mary Bland, “Eating Raoul” is about a straight laced couple, who may be duller to spend a night with than watching paint peel off a wall, are surrounded by the wild sex scene of 1980’s Hollywood. The Los Angeles apartment complex the Blands live is filled with sleazy party goers, swingers and connoisseurs of S&M. Not exactly an environment for a couple who find sex a foul deed. Among the depraved your will find Buck Henry and Ed Begley Jr. in small but memorable roles. Not surprisingly, the Blands have no children. Continue reading →
When I saw “Stardust Memories” for the first time back in 1980 (Baronet Theater in Manhattan) I was completely lost as to what Woody Allen was doing. Filled with Fellini like imagery, bizarre inhabitants straight out of Diane Arbus and seemingly resentful, bitter attacks on his fans. I found the film, to say the least, hard to swallow. I wasn’t and am not one of those folks who keep wishing Woody would trek back to his ‘funny’ early films. I actually relished his celluloid journey, his growth from dubbing a cheesy Japanese spy flick with completely new dialogue turning it into “What’s Up, Tiger Lily?’ through his early visually clumsy, but oh so funny, films like “Take The Money and Run” and ‘Bananas” to his classic “Annie Hall” and on to the Bergman like “Interiors” and the homage to his home town in “Manhattan.” Woody always seemed to be expanding his artistic horizons. At the time of its original release, I chalked up “Stardust Memories” as a failure, hell everyone is entitled to a failure now and then, right?
Now, let me just say here, I watch many of Woody’s film all the time, over and over, true some more than others, I have lost count on how many times I have seen “Manhattan,” “Bananas,” “Sleeper,” “Manhattan Murder Mystery,” “Annie Hall, “Hannah and Her Sisters,” “Broadway Danny Rose” and so on. His films are like old friends with whom you gladly sit, have a drink, and reminisce about those days gone by. The one film I never went back to was “Stardust Memories.” Frankly, until I watched it for the first time in years, just a few months ago, I remembered little about it except for the feeling of confusion I had and a why bother attitude about taking a second look. One day I found a copy at a local library and for no particular reason decided to give it another shot. All I can say is hallelujah brother! I have been seen the light and have been converted! Continue reading →
Of all the filmmakers who came to be collectively known in the 1970’s as the movie brats, Brain DePalma was the one who liked to push most the cinematic buttons of both critics and audiences. He delights in making his audience uncomfortable. With a sardonic wit and an ice cold point of view, DePalma has never been a middle of the road filmmaker, critics and audiences either love his work or hate it. He is viewed as either a violent, immoral rip-off artist who hates woman or a visionary artist who flies in the face of conservative thinking enjoying the shock and loathing his films have sometimes unleashed over the years. The more uncomfortable the audience is the better DePalma likes it. Like Alfred Hitchcock, DePalma’s films are planned well in advance with each detail written into the script. What you read is what you get, little changes. Editing is just putting the finished pieces together and not an exploration to potentially discover alternative new themes or ideas during the process.
Like Hitchcock, Brian DePalma’s films are a voyeurs’ delight. Examples abound, the slow motion dream like opening shot of the girls’ locker room in “Carrie” or the TV game show called “Peeping Tom” in “Sisters.” In one of his earlier films, “Greetings” Robert DeNiro’s character is a porn filmmaker and in “Body Double,” Craig Wasson’s Jake Scully watches a beautiful, sexy neighbor undress in front of her window. Hitchcock himself gave us “Psycho” where the camera works its way into a hotel room catching Sam Loomis and Marion Crane finishing up a lunch time affair and later just before Norman murders Marion Crane he is seen watching her through a peephole in the motel room next to hers. Hitch also gave us the ultimate voyeur movie with “Rear Window.” Continue reading →
In 1911, Mary Pickford left D.W. Griffith and Biograph, first working for IMP (Independent Moving Picture Co.) at $175 a week, an increase from her Biograph salary of $100. Later, she would sign with the Majestic Motion Picture Company for $225 a week. Though she was making more money than ever the films were not of the same quality as with Mr. Griffith. In January 1912, Mary returned to Biograph, and more importantly, to D.W. Griffith with a new contract though for less money ($175). No problem, Mary was happy to be back with cinema’s early master.
“A Beast at Bay” was Mary’s ninth film for Biograph after her return, released in May of 1912. The vivacious, charming Pickford stars in this D.W. Griffith one reeler, one of more than 70 shorts Griffith made that year. Like many of Griffith’s films, the characters have no name and are only known by a descriptive title. Here Mary is simply, “The Young Woman,” as such; I will refer to all the characters by the real life names just to make it less cumbersome. Continue reading →
“Broadway Danny Rose” opens at the famed Carnegie Deli located in midtown Manhattan, known for its huge Pastrami and Corned Beef sandwiches and as a well known show business hangout for many of the old time Borscht Belt comedians of yesterday. At one table dishing out old show biz stories are comedians Corbett Monica, Sandy Baron, Jackie Gayle and Will Jordan among others all playing themselves. Also in the group is Jack Rollins, Allen’s long time producer. The tales go around, back and forth, names come and go until Sandy Baron announces he has the best Danny Rose story ever. We flash back to a time not too long in the past.
Danny Rose (Woody Allen) is a fourth rate theatrical agent whose client list is filled with some of oddest acts in show business including a one legged dancer, a woman who plays musical glasses, a blind Xylophonist and a stuttering ventriloquist. Danny is a good hearted loser who believes in his clients worth no matter how bad they are. He is willing to go to the extreme to keep his acts happy and get them jobs. It’s this dedication that gets him in trouble when he becomes involved with his top client’s mistress and some unfriendly gangsters who mistake Danny as her lover. Continue reading →
“Turn on, Tune in, Drop out!” Timothy Leary once proclaimed. Albert Brooks takes it to heart and is born to be wild in his hilarious off-beat comedy, Lost in America“his third feature film as a director and writer, actually co-writer, the script was co-written with his long time writing partner, Monica McGowan Johnson. (1)
Woody Allen and Mel Brooks pretty much dominated the writer/director comedy ledger during the 1970’s and 1980’s but rising fast in the background was Albert Brooks whose first venture into filmmaking was a short called The Famous Comedian’s School originally shown on PBS. In 1975, he made a series of short films on the first season of “Saturday Night Live.” After several acting gigs including a role in Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, Brooks wrote and directed his first feature-length film in 1979, Real Life, a satirical take of the on the pioneering PBS reality show, though it was not given that now dubious label, An American Family. Today, after too many years of “reality” shows that are unintentional more comical and demeaning to viewers than realistic, the film can be still be seen as a mirror to the seemingly endless number of fabricated “reality” TV shoved down our throats. Real Life had a very limited distribution and modest financial success but did launch Albert Brooks career as an important comedic writer/director.
Lost in America concerns the story of David (Albert Brooks) and Linda (Julie Hagerty) Howard, two materialistic yuppies who have good jobs and a pleasant life in California, but still do not feel fulfilled with their lives. David is expecting a big promotion to Senior Vice-President with the advertising company where he works. However, on the big day he finds out his boss has other “big” plans for him. A transfer to New York to work on a major new account…and no promotion. Continue reading →
Disillusionment with sport heroes is something sport fans have had to deal with quite a bit recently. However, is it really a new occurrence? Scandals in sports seem to have been with us throughout the years. Way back in the 1870’s, a professional ballplayer named George Gerchtel was accused of throwing games. Over the years, innumerable boxing matches have been fixed, the career of Primo Carnera being a prime example, with many of his fights being considered mob influenced set ups. The College basketball world was rocked in the 1950’s when seven colleges involving thirty two players were bribed by bookies to keep games close. The mob was also involved in bribing Boston College players during the 1978-79 season. One of the mob members included Henry Hill, a name movie fans will remember from Martin Scorsese’s, “Goodfellas.” Then there was the Pete Rose gambling mess, the continuing steroid mess that has destroyed the integrity of baseball, the tour de France incidents a few year back where various cyclists were disqualified for using dope or testing positive for steroid use. There was also the NBA referee who was under investigation for betting on games including some he actually worked in. Tonya Harding was banned from ice-skating for her 1994 involvement in the Nancy Kerrigan episode. Notre Dame Coach, George O’Leary resigned after it was proven he fabricated his resume. Gambling, poor sportsmanship and even criminal activity, remember Michael Vick? And of course, the infamous1919 Black Sox scandal.
In John Salyes 1988 film, “Eight Men Out,” a young boy is seen standing outside the courthouse when “Shoeless” Joe Jackson exits. The boy yells out to his hero, “Say it ain’t so, Joe!” Those same words can be yelled out today by so many young boys and girls, looking at today’s sports “heroes.” Change Joe to Roger, or Jose, or Barry, or Jason and we are in modern times. Continue reading →